Workshop Aromatherapy and Souls Healing


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So what is all this about, you may well ask. Well first to fill you in on a little bit of background:

Dr. Florian Birkmayer is a psychiatrist who has spent the past years offering holistic person-centered psychiatry and addiction medicine to patients from his private practice in New Mexico. Steering away from conventional drugs, he works with essential oils and other plant based medicines as well as equine therapy. He also holds seminars and workshops on a wide range of holistic topics to facilitate self transformation and continued self development. His approach has been inspired by C.G Jung’s ideas about Individuation, which is the journey of the limited ego to the higher self.

Cathy Skipper is a French-trained herbalist and aromatherapist and practicing member of the Association of Master Herbalists in the UK. She spent the last ten years teaching a wide range of plant related classes such as field botany and wild crafting, healing plants with plants, practical herbalism, aromatherapy and healing the healer in both France, the UK and the States. All her work stems from the importance of reconnecting with the natural world, the healer healing themselves and reestablishing balance and vitality through alignment with the self.


Florian and Cathy have a very strong bond and their approach to life and ‘the healing arts’ is both similar and complimentary.

Says Cathy: ‘I had always been intrigued by alchemy, although I knew absolutely nothing about it until I met Florian who inspired me to explore it within the context of my own personal path. As I began to learn, I loved the freedom from religion and doctrine that it offered and the way it helped me to understand and structure my inner world. Gradually the combination of alchemy and aromatic medicine helped me develop a stronger vessel with which to explore deeper within myself. A feeling of fully living my journey towards individuation emerged, the synergy of aromatics and alchemy provided the tools I needed. I am not saying I am anywhere near arriving at a destination but I have definitely embarked on a voyage’.

 Florian says: ‘My interests in both aromatherapy and Jungian Depth Psychology are longstanding, but I only started exploring their synergy recently. Aromatherapy has been a portal for me to explore the themes of plant intelligence and human-plant communication. Jung’s Red Book and his other works, especially his last great work ‘Mysterium Conjunctionis’ have profoundly shaped my view of reality and the metaphysical realms. To me essential oils and hydrosols are the unseen forces that communicate within and between our souls, a class of archetypes and a realm of the collective unconscious. I consider bridge-building one of the main themes of my work and life and this class is the culmination of many bridgebuldings, between aromatherapy and Jung, between me and Cathy, between the soul and the world and in this way another alchemical mystical marriage.’

We are both excited about sharing our passion for essential oils within the context of the alchemical journey. During the course we will explore the seven alchemical steps using exercises with essential oils and hydrosols to find our way. We will cover the following principal steps

  • Looking at how each alchemical stage relates to a different part of the healing cycle.
  • Identifying the different emotional/energetic states that arise in each stage and the essential oils and hydrosols that may help work through them.
  • Exercises and experiential work to deepen the understanding of each stage and the action of certain essential oils and hydrosols.
  • Looking at ways this work can be used with clients in an aromatherapy or psychotherapy practice.

 This workshop is intended to:

  • Help develop a deeper and more personal relationship to essential oils and hydrosols.
  • Offer a model that can be used to assist healers on their own journeys and those of their clients.
  • Highlight the importance of soul healing in achieving a state of ‘vitality’ and optimum health.

We are teaching this class in May 2016 in New York and Detroit, September in Ireland and October in Utah. We are happy to teach it all over the world. Please contact me for information about already scheduled classes or hosting a class.





Marjoram or oregano

These two plants are among those that I use often in herbal teas, as essential oils and hydrosols, grow in my garden or harvest wild. However I have noticed that there is often confusion between the two, it is not uncommon to read about Origanum majorana commonly known as Marjoram and see a photo or drawing of Origanum vulgare, commonly known as oregano, next to the text. Nor is it uncommon to go on a guided tour around a herb garden and hear the guide calling marjoram, oregano… but why and what makes it so difficult to get these two plant’s identities clearly sorted out? Well for one, they are both 
from the Origanum genus
(belonging to the Lamiaceae
family), a large genus
containing several different
sections and a huge number
of species, subspecies and
hybrids and a complicated
taxonomic history. Linnaeus
first classified it as a single
genus and then over the
years the plants were ordered
under various botanical names
including Amaracus, Origanum and Marjorana. 
For the purpose of this article I will be concentrating on the two aforementioned plants and their differences botanically, ecologically and medicinally. The genus Origanum contains plants that are rich in essential oils and have been used for thousands of years as condiments and medicines. The word origanum comes form oros in Greek, meaning mountain and perhaps ganousthai meaning ‘delight in’, which probably refers to the fact that the origanum species that have the highest essence content grow wild in the mountains.

Let us begin by looking at the botanical differences in the two plants;

Origanum vulgare is a thermophile, woody perennial, which grows to an average of between 20 to 60 cm’s high but can grow higher in certain conditions. It has a woody rhizome and quadrangular, reddy- purplish stems, the simple, oval, dark green leaves are arranged opposite each other and have short stalks, the upper leaves are sometimes sessile, the whole plant is covered with soft hairs and has a pleasant, recognizable odor. It flowers between July and September and the inflorescences are densely inserted at the extremities of the plant’s stems on small branches. The flowers (typical of this family) have an upper and lower lip, and a bell shaped calyx with more or less equally sized teeth. They are purple, pink or white, the buds being a deeper color than the flowers themselves, here where I live they are always purple, I have in fact never seen them in another color and they are also most commonly depicted in books with purple flowers. The stamens are prominent and the oval, leaf-like bracts are often tinted a reddish purple.

origanum vulgare (1)

 Origanum majorana is a perennial but often considered an annual when grown in Northern climates, as it is indigenous to Mediterranean areas and does not survive harsh winters (half hardy). It grows to a maximum height of 60cms and tends to be bushier than the Origanum vulgare. The stems are woody and greeny-brown rather than purple and not as rigid as the former meaning that rather than growing completely upright, marjoram has a tendency to grow in low mounds. Its pubescent leaves are arranged opposite each other and are grey-green, the flowers appear at the extremities as in the Origanum vulgare but are much smaller and white (sometimes slightly pinky). It is the flower buds in this genre that are very noticeable as they look like neat knots; this is where the name knotted marjoram came from. The fruit are brown, tear-shaped nutlets.
Origanum marjorana

Native to the Mediterranean Eurasia, both plants like warm, sunny environments, Origanum vulgare, which grows wild next to my home here in Southwest France, quite happily gets through the harsh sometimes snowy winters and the Origanum majorana, which is not found wild here as it prefers a warmer climate, growing wild for example in Cyprus and Turkey did actually survive as a perennial in my medicinal plant plantation.

Although Origanum vulgare prefers slightly alkaline soil, it can quite easily be found living happily along the roadsides on more acid terrains as long as they are well drained. It grows in most of Europe and to north and western Asia up to 1500 to 2000m altitude.

So as we have seen, these two plants do have similarities but are NOT in anyway the same plant, they are visually different, have different requirements in terms of where they grow and although some of their medicinal uses overlap, they have very different properties and constituents. What is for sure is that they are both great allays to the herbalist.

Some of the earliest records of origanum use date back to 1600-1200BC when images of the plants were inscribed on tablets by the Hittites of Asia Minor/Syria. (1) As the two plants in question have so often over history been called by the same name, it is necessary to view any historical descriptions in a broad sense.Origanum (probably marjoranum) was a symbol of love for the Greeks and Romans. It was woven into the floral headband that couples wore for their marriage and was also one of the ingredients in the many available love elixirs and balms. One of the warming herbs used to heal broken hearts, it was also planted on tombs to help the dead find peace. Both the plants in question were considered to be protective against magic spells and bad spirits, marjoram scattered in doorways kept the devil away from the house.

Origanum majoranum and Origanum vulgare have both been used historically and are still used in different parts of the world for cooking. In my experience both plants taste better in cooking when used young, that is to say before flowering, where I find their taste becomes a little more bitter. Oregano is known as the ‘Pizza’ herb and it does marry very well with tomatoes and Italian style dishes. I use it as one of the ingredients in my herby salt, where I find it adds a certain peppery sharpness and retains its flavor.Marjoram has a milder, sweeter flavour and is considered as the ‘meat’ herb, it is better to use fresh as being milder, it tends to loose its depth of flavour when dried.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Oregano grows wild where I live, on slightly acid, very draining soils at 600metres altitude. I have taken a few examples from the wild and replanted them in my teaching gardens and funnily enough, they grew without really prospering as if they were cross with me and trying to tell me that I could wild-craft them nearby so why was I trying to grow them – probably to do with less draining soils as well. As for marjoram, I had a few 
hundred plants in my plantation a few years ago, it grew very well on the poor, sandy soils of the Beaujolais region of south-east France, surviving winter and providing two crops per season. Probably due to the dry, harsh growing conditions, the essential oil content was lovely and high, this was made evident when distilling it for its hydrosol as it also provided enough of a lovely yellowy- orange oil on top of the hydrosol to take off with a pipette and use…exciting!

I dry both plants and use them regularly in my herbal tea mixes but not for the same reasons, although as I said they they can overlap.
I use Origanum vulgare in digestive blends, especially when digestion is slow and difficult, like thyme it has an anti-putrefying action on the digestion helping to relieve gas and abdominal swelling. I also use it in respiratory blends for its strong antiseptic qualities when there is infection.

I look at Origanum majoranum’s principal quality as being its ability to help bring balance and healing through its action on the nervous system by both relaxing and toning at the same time. Its antispasmodic and toning/ relaxing action helps relieve anxiety and stress without making the person sleepy. It also has an important role to play in respiratory tract problems where its calming action helps with the uncomfortable spasms linked to coughs and asthma for example and its toning qualities help strengthen the respiratory system as well as having an expectorant action on mucus. Its terrific calming capacity also helps with problems such as spasms and colitis in the digestive system and like its cousin oregano, helps eliminate putrefaction.

Both plants are high in essences and their essential oils provide valuable tools to the herbalist and aromatherapist. Although some of their virtues may cross over, they are generally used very differently. O. vulgare is great to have on hand at the first signs of flu or bacterial infection, a drop or two taken internally in a teaspoon of honey or in aromatic capsules can actually stop the bacteria in their footsteps so to speak. It has yielded one of the most potent antibacterial agents on its activity against a wide range of microorganisms including E.coli, Streptococcus and Salmonella, thanks to its high thymol and carvacrol content (2) , this coupled with an immune stimulating and antiviral action make it an excellent flu deterrent. It is also a powerful antifungal and anti-parasite useful in Candida albicans amongst other fungal infections. It is used in agriculture and gardening pulverised in a dispersant against parasites. Due to its high phenol content however, this oil is irritant to the skin and should not be used externally, dilute carefully and respect the doses for internal use as it is also irritant to mucous membranes, avoid its use in young children and pregnant women.

Marjoram’s soothing action is very evident in its essential oil, helping one release negative feelings and tension and get back into balance. Linked to these calming, re-balancing virtues is a hypotensive action making it a great oil for stressed, overworked business people with high blood pressure – ‘a wind down at the end of a busy day oil’. Use a 20% dilution when using externally and avoid its use with pregnant women.
Its calming effect can also be handy with children, who have worked themselves into a tantrum and are bordering on hysterical, in these cases Patrice’s homeopathic granules of essential oil of Marjoram are very practical combining both the safety of a homeopathic dilution with the powerfulness of an essential oil. Use a 20% dilution when using the essential oil externally and avoid its use with pregnant women.

To keep this article short and simple, I have looked at the two most commonly used Origanum species, this is however just a starting point. For anyone wishing to go further, there are many interesting species from this genus, certain endemic to specific places such as Origanum sipyleum from Turkey or Origanum dictamnus from Crete, there are also several other essential oils available such as Origanum onites, although less commonly used, none the less very interesting.

(1) Kitiki, Ayse. 1997. Status of cultivation and use of oregano in turkey. in oregano: proceedings of the iPGri international workshop on oregano 8-12 May 1996, CIHEAM, Valenzano (Bari), Italy. edited by s. Padulosi. rome: international Plant Genetic resources institute.

(2) The biological/pharmacological activity of the origanum Genus
dea bariˇceviˇc and tomaˇz bartol


Depression cuts the ground from under one’s feet!

 (I wrote this article originally for

Through my work as a herbalist, I have noticed that many of my patients and especially those suffering from depression, anxiety and stress seem to lack what we call in France ‘ancrage’. Literally translated this means anchoring, which I prefer in a way to the word ‘grounding’ as anchoring conjures up more than just a connection to the earth but the feeling of being nestled deeply and securely in oneself, the solar plexus is the home to the centre of one’s being, the place of inner calm, peace and centeredness. Having one’s feet firmly on the ground and living in the physical body seems to be harder than it looks for people today, there is a general disconnection with oneself and nature…we are part of the natural world are we not? ImageThis disconnection results in a loss of self that is highlighted in many forms of depression, vital life energy, that which ‘animes’ or in English, ‘brings to life’, dwindles and the depressed person has trouble finding enough of this energy to dress and feed himself, let alone create his life.

An extreme case of this lack of ‘ancrage’, that I witnessed in one of my patients was a thirty year old woman who just wasn’t there, she was unable to take hold of anything that was said to her, I could feel her absence it was palpable, as if she was hovering above her body, when asked a question her replies were off the subject as she was so not there she wasn’t able to really hear what was being said to her. This person had lost her mother in an accident at the age of fourteen and the shock had pushed her out of her physical body, a survival technique that had its use at the moment of the shock, however sixteen years later, she was still disconnected from herself and the world in which she lived, what had been a survival technique at the time was now preventing her from ‘living’. This is a severe case, where the person was completely removed from her physical self, however many people live out their lives in their minds. I would say we are all to some extent suffering from this disconnection to ourselves as our lives move further and further away from nature and evolve more and more around virtual communication, stationary activities, sterile environments, we look for sense outside ourselves and forget to hear that inner, unique resonance that is ‘I’.

“The more we stay in our minds the more we think, the more we think the more we stay in our minds, the more we are in our minds, the less grounded we are, the less grounded we are, the less happy we are.”

The feeling of being ‘anchored’ in oneself is not as ‘subtle’ as it may appear, once grounded and reconnected there is a real and tangible feeling of being in one’s rightful place, at home in oneself and really here on earth. This feeling brings about a more positive outlook and more confidence in life. A distance appears from what is ‘oneself’ and the thoughts, actions, noises and stresses of life, a distance that helps one to let go of things and thoughts more easily and at the same time accept life, there is less resistance and as we all know ‘what resists persists’.

So, how to go about helping a depressed person to feel more grounded and centred within themselves?

There are many different techniques for ‘grounding’, such as dance, gardening, walking in nature (preferably bare footed), meditation, yoga, Tai chi, massage, swimming in rivers or the sea, to name but a few. These are things that can be slowly integrated into work on lifestyle changes with someone recovering from depression.

However the depressed patient, who hasn’t yet got to the stage where he or she is ready to take on new activities (low motivation) but may greatly need to feel that base foundation of connection with self, could benefit from plant medicines that help to ground, centre and align. Plants that stimulate and re-activate adrenal action are also recommended as adrenal exhaustion is often linked to a lack of grounding in the physical body. The adrenal gland’s contribution to our physical health and general vitality is very important, they are connected to the root chakra, a lack of grounding means that the natural energy cycle that triggers the adrenals into action lacks conviction and there is a gradual depletion and imbalance of adrenal energy.

These propositions would of course be part of a long-term treatment that addresses the different aspects that make up this complex state of imbalance, known as ‘depression’.

 Plants that ground and align

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

The name valerian comes from the Latin word ‘valère, meaningI am worth.

It took me a long time to really get to know this plant; in retrospect I think I was approaching it in the wrong way. I was surprised when I did eventually make the connection to find that it was a lot more subtle and gentle with a certain finesse to its action that I was not expecting.

I use valerian root for people who are mentally all over the place, people who cannot sleep because their mind is running or who are overly nervous or even hysterical with uncontrolled thoughts and panic. It gently brings a person back into their body, gathering up dispersed consciousness and calmly bringing it down to a safer place within (antispasmodic action on the solar plexus region), where the phase of deeper sleep is increased and an appeasement is found.

Wilhelm Pelikan in his work called ‘Man and medicinal Plants’ based on his studies with Rudolf Steiner states ‘Valerian brings the cosmic down into earth and not the earth into the cosmic’.

The roots are the part used and my experience is that they connect us very much to our own roots (both in the sense of physical grounding and our genealogical roots) enabling us to contact a deeper, more solid sense of ‘ancrage’.

Tincture of the fresh roots;

5 to 10 drops in the morning (to be repeated during the day if necessary) for depression and stress.

5 to 30 drops before bed for insomnia.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica, Angelica sylvestris)

ImageAlthough most people talk about Angelica archangelica when talking and writing about this plant, I use the latter for making tinctures and hydrosols (Angelica sylvestris)as it grows wild around my home and the former I buy as an essential oil. Angelica has similarities with valerian in that it has a long hollow stem that leads us down to the roots, the signature for plants with this structure is often considered as plants that help in ‘journeying’. I see them as plants that help align, making the connection between the lighter part of ourselves connected to our original source (essence) and our roots or material grounding. Like valerian, angelica helps those people who have difficulty coming into their physical bodies, I use the essential oil of the roots for this, a drop every morning for 21 days, rubbed into the sole of the foot and one drop rubbed between the hands. The grounding effect is more or less instant, as if suddenly the body recognises the connection (the plug has been put back into the socket) and at the same time it seems to strengthen both the physical body and the spirit, bringing vitality back to the organism!

Angelica root tincture or hydrosol can also be used internally.

*Do not use the essential oil on the skin before going out in the sun, as it can be photosensitive. Read the rest of this entry »

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